Introduction to Autopilot Systems

A complete autopilot system consists of a number of components:

  • The Autopilot Course Computer provides the “intelligence” of the Autopilot System.  It monitors inputs from sensors, provides feedback to the user, and provides control signals to the drive unit.
  •  The Sensors are the “eyes and ears” of the Autopilot System.  Depending on the model and configuration, the Autopilot Course Computer can monitor signals from a compass, a GPS, a rudder sensor, a speed sensor, a wind-direction indicator, and other sensors that provide information on the boat and its environment.
  • The Drive Unit provides the “muscle” for the Autopilot System.  It receives control signals from the Autopilot Course Computer, and turns these into action by providing the mechanical or hydraulic power to actually change the direction of the rudder or motor.

With modern electronics, sensors, and drive units any boater can benefit from the convenience and safety of a reliable autopilot unit.
This overview deals with this final component, the Drive Unit.
Autopilot Drive Units are either hydraulic or mechanical devices,  are powered by 12 or 24 volts dc motors, and come in  a range of sizes to match the needs of both power and sailboats, large or small.